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Wedding Customs & Rituals in China

Over more than 5000 years’ history in china, there are certain unique customs settled in dealing with wedding issues in China .Given that China is a country range over a vast land region, the wedding customs and rituals surely varies from regions, religions and ethnics. Yet this article will tell you the common tradition of wedding customs and rituals in China in the main clues of how Chinese find their “other half”? What to prepare before a Chinese wedding? What to do during a Chinese wedding? What to do after a Chinese wedding?

How Chinese find their "other half"?

Arranged Marriages in the Past

In the feudal society in China, marriages often were arranged by one’s parents instead of their own will. Condition, wealth, educations, zodiacs and social status would be taken into consideration when a considerable match was happening. `If a boy's family was well-off or an official family, it was unlikely his parents would allow him to take a poor girl as his wife. The matchmaker was a common job playing a key role in setting a marriage between two families in ancient China. When the boy’s parents identified a possible bride-to-be, they would send a matchmaker to get the girl’s parents’ opinions about this marriage. If their opinion was positive, the matchmaker would obtain the date and hour of the girl’s birth to offer to the boy’s parents.

The groom’s family would place the note containing the girl’s birth detail on the ancestral altar for three days. If no bad things took place within that time, such as quarrels between families or loss of properties, the parents would take this marriage as been favored by their ancestors and give the boy’s birth details to the matchmaker to present it to the girl’s family for them to go through the same process. Only after both outcomes were favorable, would the two families arrange to meet. By then the future bride and groom could finally meet their "other half” face-to-face.

Free Love in Today’s China

Today, the majority of Chinese couples find their own match and marry for love. Their “other half’ could be their classmate, co-workers, internet pal or even a soul mate they have just met yesterday! 

Yuelao——The god of Matchmaking

There is a matchmaker god called Yuelao in charge of people’s marriage in Chinese legend. He unites people’s marriage by tying a red string around the ankles of the future husband and wife. In ancient time, many young girls and boys coming to the age of getting married would go to Yuelao Temple to pray for a perfect match. Today, Young men and women would still do the same sometimes but instead of praying for a considerable match it is mainly for a romantic chance of coming across their Mr.\Miss. Right.

(Yuelao Statue in the yuelao temple)

What should be done before a Chinese marriage?

Making a Proposal

In China, after a boy finds his future wife, it is his parents that should elaborate a marriage proposal to the girl’s parents. After the girl’s parents had accepted their proposal, both families would set a date for a formal meeting and negotiating the betrothal. Usually in the past, this would be dealt in the hands of a matchmaker, but since nowadays young people find their lovers without any matchmaker, therefore it is often dealt by the parents of the two parties.

Betrothal & Dowry Before Engagement

In the west it is common for a couple to formally announce their wedding by becoming engaged and traditionally the man buys the woman an engagement ring. In China it is somewhat different. Traditionally, the groom's family should present the betrothal or "Grand Gift" which is various proposal gifts representing fertility and prosperity to appreciate the girl’s parents’ efforts in raising the girl. Later, the girl’s family would send the girl’s dowry consisted of jewelry to display their support and love for their daughter. The betrothal and dowry are considered to be an important part in sealing the marriage, only by then the two are considered officially engaged.  

Betrothal & Dowry’s Evolution Over the Years

How many items and how much the “Grand Gifts” and dowry cost would generally be left to open discussion by the two families. It is like who is going to pay for the wedding and who contributes the newlyweds more. It depends on the two families wealth and social status, usually the groom side is supposed to provide more. In 1970s, the “Grand Gifts” generally were bicycle, watch and sewing machine; in 1980s, it were Refrigerator, recorder and washing machine; in 1990s, it were air conditioning, motorbike and colour TV set ;in 20 century, the “Grand Gifts” are usually house, car and money.

chinese Betrothal & Dowry’s Evolution Over the Years

Betrothal and Dowry in China Today

Today when a couple is preparing to get married, they probably already had an apartment or a house provided by the groom parents and a car provided by the bride’s parents. As for the “Grand Gifts” are largely replaced by money, especially in “sixes”, ”eights” and 'nines' as they symbolize” well”, “wealth” and 'forever'. It could be 6999rmb ,9999rmb, 98888rmb or even 1000001 symbolizing that the bride is chosen one out of a million. Most of the money will be used  in the wedding ceremony or the honely moon holiday. Of course the negotiation is not always a smooth sailing. But in the end, marridge is about love not about money, so mainly, how much the betrothal and dowry will depend on the wealthy state of both families. It doesn't have to be a huge number as long as there is love in between.

Getting a Legal Marriage Certification in China

The Chinese marriage certification is a red colored brochure with the newly-weds’ name and ID detail on it. The Civil Affairs Bureau is the only office for completing the legal element of a marriage. The cost will be just 9 CNY unsurprisingly meaning forever. Many couples marry officially and then proceed to the ceremony or party the next weekend, or even later.

chinese wedding certification

What to prepare for a Chinese Wedding Ceremony?

Selecting an Auspicious Wedding Date

In China, anytime a big event going to take place in one family, such as moving house, holding funeral ceremony, visiting ancestors, opening new business, replacing a figure of god and certainly holding a wedding ceremony, people will surely go for a fortune teller (call it Fung Suey teller if you want to) to figure out an auspicious date in the wish of everything goes smoothly and no one offends any god or evil spirits.

This is a long-passed down Chinese tradition for the Fung Suey [pinyin:feng shui]is a part of Chinese culture. According to it, everything belongs to either yin or yang and each item in the universe including everyday can be categorized into five types which are metal, wood, water, fire and earth. In this wedding case, the auspicious date will be based on one’s birth date (year, day and hour),zodiacs and the year’s figure, all those elements or even more needed to be taken into consideration in charting out a auspicious date for the newlyweds.

There are Chinese Almanacs containing predictions for the entire year which are sold by street vendors might tell you which day in this year is auspicious but it doesn’t mean that day would suit you with your unique birth dates, this is why a fortune teller or Fung Suey expert is consulted. 

Taking Professional Wedding Photos

This is a bit different from the West. Chinese couples would pay for a local photographic studio to do their professional wedding photos. They will hire fancy costumes such as the western stylish formal wedding gown and formal suit, or alternatively traditional Chinese wedding dress like Long fenggua and Cheongsam. After the photos are taken, the photographer will use Photoshop to make them look as pretty as possible. As to how much they will spend on these photos, it depends on the wealth and social status of the couple, usually it will cost around 5000rmb, whereas some can be quite costly if one prefer to shoot at a romantic tropical island rather than the local beauty spot. 


Sending out Wedding Invitations

Usually when the wedding photoes are done, the couple will send out their wedding invitations. It can be just a red card with their name and wedding reception details on it, or a delicate card with their weeding photos on it. Today, many couples would post a video invitation made by their wedding photos (e-invitaion) through Wechat or QQ.

Wedding House Decorating

Different from the west preferring white rose, Chinese prefer red-colored flower like red rose and colorful lily or peony for their wedding decoration process. Others like hanging the double happiness symbol in the house, placing the dragon and phoenix candle in bedroom and dragon and phoenix couplet on the front door, both meaning having good relations between the newlyweds.Also unsurprisingly, prepare lots of fireworks to scare the evil spirits away.

The key part is installing the newlyweds’ bed, a propitious hour and a ‘good luck woman or man’ is selected to do this. When it is done, children were invited onto the bed as an omen of fertility. For the same reason, the bed was scattered with red dates, peanuts, longan and lotus seeds.

chinese weddding house decoration

Chinese Wedding Dress

In the past, Chinese wedding dresses were mainly Zhongshan suit or Mao suit for the groom and Qipao for the bride. The main color would be red and the dresses would be decorated with embroidered dragons and phoenix or peony flowers for wealthy wishes. Bride should wear phoenix coronet and robes of rank, new red shoes and a red covering veil. Groom should wear a big red flower made by a nice piece of silk in front of his chest. Since Chiang Kai Shek and his wife got married wearing a western style wedding dress in 1920s, the westerns wedding dress gained popular gradually in China.

Today many Chinese brides choose three dresses on the wedding ceremony. The first one will usually be a western wedding gown when they standing at the wedding reception lobby welcoming their friends, then bride will wear a delicate Chinese long fenggua(龙凤褂) to compete the wedding ceremony on the stage, after which an elegant Qipao(旗袍) will be wore as the couple get mingled and start toasts with their families and friends under the stage. Below is a detailed picture showing the evolutions of Chinese wedding dresses over the years since the end of 18th century.

chinese wedding dress over the years

Learn more about Chinese wedding dress, what are the embroidered dragons and phoenix, peony flowers  actually meaning, and chinese wedding dress in ancient China by click here.

How Chinese Wedding Day Ceremony

On the wedding day, the groom will set out to the bride's home in the morning and will inevitably get blocked at her door by her families and friends. The bridesmaids will play door game with the groom and his attendants.  Then the groom will escort the bride to meet his parents and proceed the Tea Ceremony at the groom’s home, after which both families will leave for the wedding reception or call it a feast to complete the wedding ceremony. Though this basic process sounds simple, there are many traditional Chinese wedding rituals you should know as noted below.

Cleaning Face For Bride

In the wedding morning, after the bride has dressed up, a close un-married younger sister of her has to use a five-colored string to post a cross in front of her face. This is a symbol of making her prettier and refreshing up for a new life journey.

Sitting on Embroidered Quilts

When the bride is waiting for the groom to come, she should sit on her bed with two embroidered quilts beneath her. For the wish of a harmony marriage and a wealthy life, one quilt is embroidered with dragon and phoenix, the other with cute babies.

Game of Hiding and Seeking Bridal' s Shoes

After the groom and his attendants had finally get in the bridal’s bedroom, the bridal friends should hide her shoes and making it is not easy to find by them. This is mainly about taking their beloved bride away is not an easy mission and will teach the groom to treasure her in future.

Bride's Feet should not Touch Ground 

After the groom found her shoes and wear it for her, he should carry her to his car avoiding her feet touching ground. This is about avoiding bad luck. 

Fireworks and Crossing Fire Bow

Both families should set out fireworks to welcome their groom or bride when he\she arrivals as to scary away the evil spirits. The groom’s mother should escort the bride to step across a fire bow when she entering their house as to clear bad luck.

All those processes should be completed before the wedding reception as the reception is set to start at an auspicious time punctually.

chinese wedding rituals

What does Chinese Wedding Reception look like?

Scale and Contributions of a Chinese Wedding Reception

The Chinese wedding reception is more like a banquet than reception as it can be a lavish affair lasting two hours. It is usually paid by the groom’s family and hold between 12:00—14:00 on the wedding day. Invited guests should present their contribution to attendants at the entrance of the wedding hall. The guest ’name and amount of money they contribute will be written down on a contribution book for in future the newlyweds can pay same amount of money back when the guest gets married. How much should I contribute for a Chinese Wedding? The number goes from 200 to 1000 CNY according to how close you are to them.

chinese wedding reception

Ceremonies on Chinese Wedding Reception

The banquet starts with a brief elaboration of the newlyweds ‘ love story’ by the host, then it is the parents’ appreciation speech for everybody’s attendance. Then the groom and bride will be invited on stage. They will change wedding rings and vows, drink cross-cupped wine for the meaning of share joy and sorrow. In some region, the bride and groom will bow three times on the stage. The first is to bow for the heaven, the second is to their parents for raising them up and the third is to each other for the respect in marriage life. Then the groom and bride should call their mother and father in law as mother and father, by then the two families are considered united formally.

All those ceremonies are conducted by a professional wedding ceremony host. In the end the bride will throw her bouquet to her bridesmaids, similarly to the west whoever gets it gets married next. After the wedding banquet, close friends and relatives stay and play tricks on the newlyweds as a way to extend good wishes. 

Chinese Wedding Night Rituals


Light Dragon and Phoenix Candle

The night of the wedding, the bridal room will lit dragon and phoenix candle to drive away the evil spirit, the newlyweds will drink wine from two cups tied together with a red string, arms crossed from each other

Making a Hair-Knot

At the wedding night, the groom and bridle will both cut a curl of their hair off and tie a knot with it. This ritual is a symbol for their bonding both body and soul and the determination of sharing each other’s life despite joy or sorrow.

Post-Wedding Ritual in China

The husband should escort his newly-married wife back to her Parents’ on the third day after their wedding. They are supposed to present gifts to her parents and the groom needs to get used to call her parents as mom and dad. In doing this, he expresses appreciation and respect to his mother-in-law and father-in-law and mainly shows them that their precious daughter has been treated well.

Today, many Chinese couples go for a honeymoon holiday after their wedding like the Westerns do. In this case they can visit the wife’s parents earlier or later after they come back. But, this tradition is indispensable.